Building and strengthening road safety systems in low- and middle-income countries is no easy task, as there are many obstacles in the way. One of the major challenges, according to a recent study by the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) with support from the World Bank and the British cooperation agency, is the rising number of road traffic deaths and injuries in these nations.
I felt a profound sense of worry when I read this report’s data for Latin America. It showed that low- and middle-income countries had higher road traffic fatality rates per 100 000 population (27.5 and 19.2, respectively) compared to high-income countries (8.3).
You might think this figure isn’t that big, considering that an additional 1.2 million people die in road crashes around the world each year. The reason I was so concerned is because Latin America is the region making the least progress in reducing its number of fatalities per traffic crash. These figures are accompanied by a rapid increase in the number of motorized vehicles, which rose by 26.6% across the region from 2015 to 2019.
With more vehicles and very little progress in terms of road safety measures, this region must make drastic changes as soon as possible. This second pandemic has been slowly creeping up on our beautiful region, claiming more innocent lives every day.
I do not use that term lightly. The study found that the most affected people in the region are cyclists (who must navigate roads with inadequate infrastructure for nonmotorized transportation) and those between the ages of 5 and 29 (who are disproportionately killed by crashes). Approximately 20 out of every 100 road traffic deaths in Latin America involve cyclists – a figure three times higher than the world average.
Speeding is a major risk factor that increases the likelihood of road traffic injuries. According to GRSF experts, a 5% reduction in average speed could potentially generate a 20% drop in the number of fatal road accidents. However, 20% of Latin American and Caribbean countries do not have national maximum speed laws. In addition, while all countries in the region have drunk driving laws, not all of them have a clear definition of what should be considered a violation based on blood alcohol content, significantly decreasing efforts to reduce the trend.
In addition to the loss of human life, this lack of road safety has a high economic impact on the region. GRSF experts estimate that countries in Latin America faced an average loss of 3% of their GDP due to deaths and injuries caused by road crashes in 2019 alone. In addition, 77% of the victims were within the economically active population, which also impacts the availability of valuable workers.
So, where do we begin, and what do we do?
There are two key ideas that can help us solve this pressing issue: Evidence-based solutions and public-private partnerships (PPPs). According to the report, 90% of the actions taken to address road safety issues in low- and middle-income countries thus far are limited to legislation and education strategies, ignoring other relevant factors. This limits public policy efforts and reduces the ultimate chances of success.
To succeed, we need a holistic solution – one in which private enterprises can share their findings with governments, and policymakers can use them to create substantial change. The truth of the matter is, road systems in several of the region’s countries lacked proper planning to begin with, so the changes that need to be made there are broad.
Solutions like this do exist, but to succeed, they need to reach the hands of those responsible for addressing road safety so they can ultimately be put into practice.
With this goal in mind, and after conducting several road safety pilots alongside UNITAR, we released our Road Safety Toolkit in 2019. It provides evidence-based methodologies governments can use to address, analyze, and correct faulty or dangerous roads and intersections. Currently, we are working to make this toolkit as accessible as possible – it’s now available as a mobile app in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and French.
But we also know this is not enough. What we need now is government collaboration, which starts with getting this toolkit into the right hands.
Looking at the region’s data and seeing everything that needs to be done, I humbly ask that you share this article with someone you think could use its contents to help save lives. Together, we can – and will – reverse the trend in Latin America.
All my best,
What do you think?